France's quick defeat was a triumph for Adolf Hitler but a major problem for Joseph Stalin, whose entire strategy had been based on the belief that the Germans would be fighting the war in the west for some time—just as they had in World War I. Stalin, who knew that Hitler had once called himself an enemy of Communism and had talked about expanding Germany to the east, feared that Germany would now turn against him.
As Finland had clearly demonstrated, the Red Army was unprepared for war with the Germans, so Stalin focused on appeasing the Nazis. While he pushed to reorganize and strengthen his army, the Soviets continued to collaborate with and provide raw materials to the Nazis. In August, off Teriberka Bay in the far north of the USSR, Soviet icebreakers helped the German ship Komet sail through the ice fields and emerge in the Pacific Ocean where it began attacking Allied ships.
Hitler had always wanted to destroy the USSR, which he considered the center of a world-wide Jewish Bolshevik conspiracy, and he decided now was the time to do it. On July 31, he told his military commanders to plan to attack the Soviet Union.
“We knew that in two years time, at the end of 1942, beginning of 1943, the English would be ready, the Americans would be ready, the Russians would be ready too, and then we would have to deal with all three of them at the same time. We had to try and remove the greatest threat from the East, which we’d have to face by the end of 1942. At the time it seemed possible.”- Hubert Menzel, German Army High Command,
Although he didn't believe that Hitler would invade soon, Stalin, ever suspicious, sent his foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov to Berlin in November to learn more about German intentions. The talks were a disaster, marred by a feeling of mutual distrust, as German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop tried in vain to get the Soviets to stop worrying about what the Nazis might do in eastern Europe and attack the British Empire in India. Soon after, Hitler stepped up plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union.
Soviet spies soon learned of Hitler's plans and sent one intelligence report after another to Moscow warning about the forthcoming German attack. Two Soviet generals, Georgy Zhukov and Semyon Timoshenko, drew up a plan in May 1941 to launch a pre-emptive attack against the Germans massed on the Soviet border, but Stalin chose to follow a path of appeasement. On June 11, Stalin also ignored a message sent from Winston Churchill, prime minister of Great Britain, containing British intelligence about the impending invasion.
Less than two weeks later, on June 22, 1941, Germany attacked its former ally in the largest land invasion in the history of the world. When Count Schulenburg, the German ambassador to Moscow, arrived at the Kremlin early that morning to formally notify the Soviets they were at war, Molotov asked him why Germany had signed the non-aggression pact. Schulenburg replied, "For the last six years I've personally tried to do everything I could to encourage friendship between the Soviet Union and Germany. But you can't stand in the way of destiny."